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Saudis, Russia Agree to Freeze Oil Output; Iran Still Resists

Top oil exporters Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed on Tuesday to freeze output levels but said the deal was contingent on other producers joining in - a major sticking point with Iran absent from the talks and determined to raise production.

The Saudi, Russian, Qatari and Venezuelan oil ministers announced the proposal after a previously undisclosed meeting in Doha. It could become the first joint OPEC and non-OPEC deal in 15 years, aimed at tackling a growing oversupply of crude and helping prices recover from their lowest in over a decade.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said freezing production at January levels - near record highs - was an adequate measure and he hoped other producers would adopt the plan. "The reason we agreed to a potential freeze of production is simple: It is the beginning of a process which we will assess in the next few months and decide if we need other steps to stabilize and improve the market," Naimi told reporters.

Oil prices jumped to $35.55 per barrel after the news about the secret meeting but later pared gains to trade below $34 on concerns that Iran may reject the deal.

OPEC member Iran, Saudi Arabia's regional arch rival, has pledged to steeply increase output in the coming months as it looks to regain market share lost after years of international sanctions, which were lifted in January following a deal with world powers over its nuclear program.